There are several things to consider when becoming a multigenerational household, according to Dr. Olivia Okereke, academic director of the geriatric psychiatry program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School:
Time management: Why are your parents moving in? If they’re independent, you won’t need to manage your own time as much to take care of them, and in fact you may find they even enjoy taking some child-care duties over from you. Start out with an assessment in which you take stock of what your time needs will be. Adult children can get into the position of doing too much and can become overwhelmed particularly if the older parent has health issues.
Learn about resources: If your parents have memory issues, find out what help is available to you by contacting the Alzheimer’s Association or your local council on aging. It’s definitely a great idea to reach out to nonprofits and town agencies to see what types of problems they can help you solve. If there are medical problems, your parents’ health providers can help put you in touch with resources.
Legal help: If you’re dealing with a parent who has a memory impairment, it’s important to get legal assistance or consultation in advance. A lawyer can help work out how assets should be arranged and set up health care proxies, living wills, caregiver agreements, and powers of attorney, if needed. These things are best addressed early.
Ground rules: If your parents are still relatively independent, sit down with them to discuss ground rules and expectations. Will you eat every meal together? How do you both spend your evenings? Can they just walk into your space without knocking? You might even want to make a “cheat sheet” proclaiming the house rules and display it in a common area. For cultural reasons, for lots of reasons, privacy is not an issue for everybody.
Money: Have an initial meeting in which all the assets and debits of both parents and children are on the table. Determine from there what you’ll need for utilities, groceries, home maintenance, and other expenses, and decide who can contribute what.
Patience: As with children, pick your battles with parents who can be challenging to live with. If there are certain things you identify for yourself that are nonnegotiable, realize what you can’t let go. Also, try to find an outlet or place to vent: a support group or friends who understand your situation. But conflict isn’t necessarily the norm. There’s a huge amount of reward with cross-generational interaction.